I Didn’t Realize Just How Solid Cody Bellinger’s 2023 ZiPS Projections Are
A recent edition of the Cubs Bullets included a discussion about potential X-factor(s) for the 2023 Cubs. And perhaps unsurprisingly, Seiya Suzuki was the pick over at MLB dot com. You can read more about that decision here, though I tend to agree Suzuki is the most likely Cub to springboard into All-Star caliber production this season. Maybe also Justin Steele. Just a personal pick, there.
But one of the other candidates considered was Cody Bellinger, who’s obviously played at an MVP level in the past. Certainly, no one is expecting Bellinger to repeat that level of success for the Cubs this season, but you can understand why the potential variance there would warrant consideration in any sort of “X-factor” chatter.
In any case, that conversation sent me over to FanGraphs, curious to re-examine how ZiPS was projecting Bellinger’s 2023 campaign. And frankly, I was surprised by how optimistic the system is, even after his last two very down seasons.
In 2021, Bellinger slashed .165/.240/.302 (47 wRC+) over 95 games, as he dealt with various injury issues (shoulder and leg), and the attendant swing impacts. In 2022, Bellinger slashed .210/.265/.389 (83 wRC+) over 144 games before being non-tendered by the Dodgers.
But in 2023? ZiPS is projecting a .230/.309/.406 slash line, which is good for a 99 wRC+ (just about league average). Combined with his above-average defense in center field (5.9 DEF projection, which would have been fourth best among all qualified center fielders last season), that would leave him worth 2.5 WAR for the Cubs in 2023.
Other projections of note:
- 18 HRs, 22 2Bs, 3 3Bs
- 65 RBI, 76 runs
- 13 stolen bases (I’ll take the over, given the rules changes)
- 10.1 BB%, 23.4 K%
Here’s what the creator of ZiPS, Dan Szmborski, had to say about the projection:
The funny thing about Cody Bellinger is that he’s probably a bit underrated overall right now. He had an abysmal 2021 and while one can hardly characterize his ’22 as a triumphant return to his prior glory, he was an acceptable starter in center field. Since he was a legitimate MVP-type just a few years ago, that’s always going to feel bad. Still, he’s 27, not 37, so the projection reflects that there’s at least some chance he has that upside still lurking in his bat somewhere.
Obviously, average offense is a far cry from peak Cody Bellinger, but you won’t find me complaining about league-average offense from a plus defensive center fielder if he’s also adding 18 homers and running bases well. Remember about last season: Cubs center fielders accrued a combined 1.5 WAR total, on a .221/.303/.365 (90 wRC+) season with the third worst DEF rating in MLB (-11.7).
In other words, if Bellinger hits his projections, he would – alone – beat all the Cubs center field contributions in terms of WAR, while providing immensely improved defense at a critical position.
This isn’t some huge win, no, but I don’t think I realized quite how much he could conceivably raise the floor … with the outside hope that another year removed from injury/surgery and a new location could help unlock some of the Bellinger of old.